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Is Diversity of Titles What DVD-A or SACD Needs Now? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 August 2002
Last week, a significant group of AV manufacturers and record labels put together a well-produced course on the possibilities and advantages of the DVD-Audio format with great success. Each and every DVD-Audio-capable component on the market, over 70 at this point, were on display, ranging from $250 cheapie players to Meridian’s mighty 800 priced at $20,000. One of the hot topics with the record execs was “diversity” in relation to the titles being released. Right now, with about 230 titles mastered and released for DVD-Audio and 70 more coming by the end of the year, diverse is a fair way to describe the entire DVD-Audio catalogue, which comes mostly from labels like WEA (Warner Brothers, Electra, Atlantic), EMI (Capitol,Virgin), DTS, 5.1 Entertainment and many others.

The most successful title of all time on DVD-Audio is Metallica’s “Black Album,” but few titles have been released that are creatively comparable. The Metallica back catalogue is not yet out on DVD-Audio, nor are many similar titles from similar artists. This is a definite problem for early adopters. This early in the launch of a new audio format, especially one engaged in a nasty format war, diversity is not exactly what the consumer wants right now. We did hear the upcoming Linkin Park album in DVD-Audio (to be released in coordination with the CD in two weeks), along with (currently availble) “Silent Lucidity” from Queensryche’s classic album Empire, which represents nice progress but don’t exactly address the issue of developing significant genres of music on DVD-Audio that appeal to the real-world, non-audiophile buying public.

For example, if WEA convinced Madonna to release a few albums on DVD-Audio, they might want to coordinate a few handfuls of other like titles from similar artists (Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope on Virgin would be a good one) for the same or similar dates. This would give tens of millions of Madonna fans reason to head to the record store or maybe even the stereo shop to pick up some new gear and a few DVD-Audio discs, which will, at a minimum, play in surround or stereo in one of 40,000,000-plus DVD-Video players currently installed in homes. The idea of increasing diversity in the titles being offered only makes it harder for mainstream enthusiasts to get excited about the new format as it relates to their favorite music. Much like a good oldies radio station, the labels supporting DVD-Audio would do well to stay focused on popular musical genres (hard rock, female pop vocals etc.) until DVD-Audio gets more consumer acceptance.

Diversity is guaranteed as a byproduct of the success of DVD-Audio. But make no mistake, the format war is not over. Sony teamed up with Universal Music Group (UMG), which has still not released the 25 titles on the “preferred” SACD format. That is called sitting on the fence. If UMG switches sides this
fall, as some insiders predict, we could see a critical swing in momentum towards DVD-Audio. If not, the burden is going to be more on WEA, EMI and the little guys to step up to the plate to make DVD-Audio the winner in the audio format wars. One question prevailed when discussing the topic with a label exec – why would UMG offer SACD as a “preferred format” if they had no intention of releasing DVD-Audio titles at some point, too? Wouldn’t UMG just wholeheartedly support SACD if they were convinced it was the way to commercial success?

Other important topics discussed at the event included added value assets to the discs. The record labels clearly understand that, with an installed consumer base of 40 million DVD-Video players, they can add unique content to the DVD-Audio discs that make them far more tempting to buy than low-res, non-surround CDs. DVD-Audio discs have room for tremendous configurations of added values like music videos, photos, interviews with the band or artist, b-sides, concert clips and more. These added value assets are key to driving the most rabid fans into stores to re-purchase DVD-Audio discs to be played on DVD-Video players.

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